In a meeting that ended in a shouting match, the Norwood School Committee last night voted 4 to 3 to close two of the town’s seven elementary schools in September.
School Supt. Louis Taris, in proposing the closings, said the school population had declined steadily in recent years and would lose 200 students each year for the next five years. He also said a recent town meeting had slashed the $11 million school budget by $300,000.
Taris estimated the closings would save the town $250,000 a year.
After the School Committee voted to shut the Aaron Guild and Willett schools, many of the 300 persons in attendance expressed anger at the decision.
One man told Committeeman Charles Saraca “to step outside” after an argument over the closings.
“We were promised we could ask questions,” said Carmen Comite. “I can’t believe they did this. The Willett School is one of the newest in town.”
Doris Ashapa. who teaches reading at the Cleveland School, said the committee “paid no attention to the fact that they’re ending careers. When you cut out schools you’ve got to cut out teachers.”
Taris said 15 teachers may lose their jobs because of the closings.
Those opposing the closings charged that the Cleveland School would be overcrowded under the new districting plan. The elementary school has 22 classrooms, but will have 23 classes next year, one of which will be held in the library.
Rudith Berkowitz, chairman of the School Committee, told the angry audience that they would have another chance at a meeting next week to persuade the committee to reconsider its decision. Berkowitz voted against the plan, favoring instead the phasing out of one school each year for the next two years.
Henry Diggs, a former School Committee member, agreed with Berkowitz, calling the decision a “disgrace.”
Diggs said, “They could have spent a year investigating the closing of the second school before doing this.”
Taris said he made the decision to close the schools after reviewing every alternative. “Actually, we’re behind the schedule on school closings,” he said.
“If you think it’s easy for me to alienate dozens and dozens of people by announcing that I’m going to close the schools their children go to, you don’t know me,” Taris said. “This just has to be done.”
Taris added that the redistricting plan, drawn up to consolidate the remaining five schools, would not mean a substantial increase in transportation costs for the system and that the quality of education would not suffer.
The student-to-teacher ratio will be at most 27 to 1, he said. There are approximately 2200 elementary school students in Norwood public schools.